At the start of “Gin and Juice,” arguably the most popular (and only) song we know on the topic of gin, Snoop Dogg (Lion? Dogg…) doesn’t clarify what kind of gin he’s sippin’ on. But the guy also had his mind on his money, and his money on his mind. Plus all the indo. Easy to get distracted.
Eventually, though, Snoop does mention that he got some Seagram’s (and, no surprise, that “everybody got they cups, but they ain’t chipped in. Now this type of [er, stuff] happens all the time.”) But then “my homey Dr. Dre came through with a gang of Tanqueray.” Looks like Snoop and Dre love London Dry gin. But why? (Come on, we all know this was the implicit secondary narrative of the song.)
London Dry isn’t the only type of gin out there. There are a few kinds, evolved from an earlier, burly-shouldered step cousin called Genever (basically a malted distilled grain drink that could only be made palatable by the addition of juniper, which, if you don’t like juniper, you can imagine what the original genever must’ve tasted like…). What we’re left with today are a few types of radically evolved gin—including London Dry, Plymouth, and Old Tom—that are either legally or geographically protected, and thus more or less preferred by Snoop and crew.
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A few things all gins have in common: they’re based on neutral grain spirits, often made with barley or corn; they’re all flavored “predominantly” with juniper berries (though other botanicals, including things like coriander, citrus peel, cassia bark, grains of paradise, and orris and angelica root, play various roles from gin to gin); and they’re all bottled at a minimum standard ABV (40% in the U.S., 37.5% in the EU).
But London Dry gin is what you’ll most likely encounter, whether you’re rollin’ down the street with Snoop or ordering a Martini to ease the schmooze-anxiety of a networking event. Despite the name, “London” Dry is actually not one of the gins with a regional definition. That designation simply (legally) indicates the style, which tends to emphasize purity: London Drys can’t have any artificial ingredients, flavorings or colorings. Except for a miniscule amount of sugar allowed at the end of distillation (0.1 grams per liter), London Dry gins are all about the botanicals, again with the necessary emphasis on juniper, though it’s often heavily balanced out by strong citrus, floral, spice components, etc. Some of the major London Dry gins you’ll encounter out there include, of course, Seagram’s and Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater and Gordon’s. (Hendrick’s, with its characteristic rose and cucumber added after distillation, is not technically a London Dry.)
Not that Snoop cares, but a quick differentiation of the other types: Plymouth gin actually is regionally defined (it can only be made in Plymouth, England, and currently only one distillery is doing so). Made along the same basic lines as London Dry, except it tends to have an earthier, rootier, fruitier mix of botanicals than London Dry and an appropriate, though subtle, sweetness. Old Tom has neither legal nor regional definitions, though it’s an interesting style on its own because it links London Dry with Genever: sweeter than either London Dry or Genever, with less perceptible juniper, probably a decent addition to juice.
A few more to throw us all off our game: New Western gins, basically the product of craft distilleries tweaking with London Dry styles (mainly); and Sloe Gin, which is more like a liqueur, flavored heavily with a sweet sloe berry syrup and so barely resembles gin at all, London Dry or other. (Some distilleries, including Plymouth, are trying to bring Sloe Gin back to its former glory.) And then there’s Navy Strength, gin that packs a 57% ABV punch, formerly favored by British soldiers.
Also, certain lower-shelf gins, called “compound gins,” can basically be made by infusing vodka with gin botanicals, but we’re not talking about that here, because it’s generally lower shelf and not worth your time, Snoop’s, or mine.